Austin’s Shinyribs comes out on top with Transit Damage


Founding member Kevin Russell started Shinyribs as a side gig in 2010 while performing with Austin-based country band The Gourds. On Transit Damage, their ninth studio album, the project displays the madness of humanity featuring a combination of blues and rock, with elements of gospel and zydeco thrown in for good measure.

Although his hiatus from The Gourds took place long ago, Russell hasn’t lost his roots. Shinyribs keep layers of country in their sound underneath their wall of sound and if you take the time and peel off the layers of soul, big band instrumentals, funk, and swamp music, you’ll find the bits of his old act still intact. The outfits draped around Russell are light, bright, and command your attention, much like the music he produces.

Although this new project is a fresh approach for Russell given his previous gig, one can’t help but notice he wears his influence on his neon sleeves and sounds like something that was graced by the hand of Dr. John. His delivery is also very similar to that of Al Green. Shinyribs is also known for their covers as much as their originals, taking on the mantle from acts like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, and Willie Nelson, and even modern artists like T-Pain and TLC.

One of the highlights of this band is their work with lyrics. The first track “Simply Belong” quickly warns of the storm approaching. The theme of the song sets us up with the narrator’s devotion to someone and their love prevailing despite circumstances that make things more complicated. He lays it flat out there that the person he loves has it now and forever. The melody is what you would usually expect from a band that swims in the genres of swamp funk, big bang, and soul. Shinyribs hold on tight to their bari sax and their trumpets, producing a sort of bug buzzing sound.

Throughout the album the instruments, for the most part, stay within the same groove, some a bit slower and others a bit louder and more pronounced, but with one listen through the album, it all seems a bit familiar. The storytelling is where it all begins to stand out. You’ll find yourself invested in the tale of a man who loves a woman in trouble. She seems to be self-sabotaging, and he is patiently waiting and supporting her recovery. No matter how much pain it may cause or how much pain is in his voice, he is still there, and so is the backing of his upbeat band. Although the playing seems to blend into one big, long song it never lets you down.

The album gives us a bit of Russell’s soul. As much as it deals with an unknown person he seems to watch over, he provides a bit of his worldview and even some insecurities. The motif of this album slowly blooms; it reveals itself as a redemption story, or at least an attempt at redemption. In its title track “Transit Damage” Russell writes, “For all you knew you had nothing to prove. Just a move and a groove and a new feeling. Oh, experience teaches the heart and it preaches from the start of a mind’s that grown uneasy.” Shinyribs not only critiques and observes the behavior and detriment of others but himself. This is where we begin to understand that this is all an exercise of self-reflection. Where do we go from here and is it possible to repair the damage that we have done or has been done to us along the way?

Transit Damage is a beautiful piece that is both positive in its tunes and unforgiving in its lyrics. The album is a bit conflicting. The music is upbeat and happy but the lyrics carry a strong message, one that tricks you into dancing when others are around and reflecting when you’re alone. It is by no means a depressing album. There is no doubt Shinyribs had a hell of a time producing it and playing around with the sound. They’re never in your face, they’re not preaching or telling you what is right and what is wrong. Instead, they sit next to you like a good friend and lay out what needs to be said despite your objections, and in the end, you will most likely listen.

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